What Is Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus is an infection that gets in through cracks in your nail or cuts in your skin. It can make your toenail change color or get thicker. It can also hurt. Because toes are often warm and damp, fungus grows well there. Different kinds of fungi and sometimes yeast affect different parts of the nail. Left untreated, an infection could spread to other toenails, skin, or even your fingernails.
Infected nails are usually thicker than normal and could be warped or oddly shaped. They can break easily. Nails with fungus might look yellow. Sometimes a white dot shows up on the nail and then gets bigger. When fungus builds up under your nail, it can loosen and even separate the nail from the bed. The fungus can also spread to the skin around your nail.
Who Gets Toenail Fungus?
Men are more likely to get it than women. The older you are, the better your chances are, too. People who have diabetes, athlete's foot, or a weak immune system, who smoke, or whose family members have it are also at a higher risk. If you spend a lot of time in the water or you've injured your toenail, your odds for getting toenail fungus go up.
Get a Diagnosis
Since toenail fungus can look like other conditions, including psoriasis, you'll want to have your toenail checked by a doctor. You may need to see a specialist who cares for feet (a podiatrist) or skin (a dermatologist). They might scrape off some of the affected part and send it to a lab to figure out what's causing the problem.
The way you treat toenail fungus depends on which fungus you have and how bad the infection is. Your doctor may try one thing or a combination:
- A topical cream that goes directly on the nail
- A topical nail lacquer
- An antifungal prescription pill
- Removing the damaged area of the nail or skin
In some cases, you might need to have the nail removed completely with surgery.
Take Care of Your Toes
Use soap and water to wash your feet, and dry well, including between toes. Trim your toenails -- straight across -- to keep them shorter than the end of your toe. Make sure the tools you use are clean, too. Wash clippers and files with soap and water, then wipe with rubbing alcohol. You might be tempted to cover up discolored nails with polish, but don't. Your nail bed can't "breathe," which keeps fungus from going away.
Keep Feet Dry and Clean
Be smart about your footwear. Choose socks that wick moisture away. Change them regularly. Make sure your shoes fit well. They should be made of something that lets air move through it, like canvas, mesh, or leather. Wear shower shoes in wet public places like locker rooms and swimming pools.
Know Your Toes
Take a good look at your nail beds and the skin around your toenails regularly, at least once a month. (You might need to use a mirror if it's hard to see your toes.) Watch for changes in color and texture, as well as for cuts or damage. Does anything hurt? If your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, give your doctor a call.